Here you will find honest, intelligent manga reviews for shojo fans of all ages.

Aug 29, 2009

Writing in the Wee Hours...

I have to say that this past week has been exhausting. I've gone back to work after being a stay at home mom for the past two years, and I'd forgotten how much time my career eats up. Now with a toddler in tow, it is even more frazzling and my personal time has been whittled down to almost nil. I'm so tired from my first week back at work that my brain is slush and even if I tried to write it would be junk. My writing time is now allotted to the couple of hours I have in the evening once I put my son to bed (recently I can't even think straight then), or when he is asleep on the weekend. That is why there have been fewer posts of late, and hardly any this week. I am still reading and even had a series all completed in order to write the review this weekend, but I had some things for work to get done that took precedence over my writing time. So it will most likely be delayed another week, until I get rejuvenated and adjust to the new routine. Bear with me until then, and know that I will be back - I'm just taking a week off to recuperate. Read some good shojo this week and let me know what you absolutely loved. Arigato!

Aug 22, 2009

Black Bird Vol. 1 - Kanoko Sakurakoji

Serialized in Betsucomi magazine since 2007, Black Bird received the 2009 Shogakukan Manga Award in the shojo category. Previewed in the final issue of Shojo Beat (July '09), volume 1 was released in August in the states.

Synopsis: Misao Harada is quickly approaching her 16th birthday. Burdened with the ability to see the spirit world, she has always been plagued by pestering spirits and wishes only to have a normal high school life. As her 16th birthday arrives, she finds herself attacked by demons. When her long lost childhood crush, Kyo, comes to her rescue, she discovers that she is the legendary bride of prophecy - a human whose blood gives power to the demon clan that claims her. Without adequate protection, Misao's life is constantly in danger from blood seeking demons. Only a very powerful demon can keep the others at bay, and to Misao's horror, Kyo has come back to claim her as his bride. Refusing to marry a demon yet unable to protect herself, Misao has no choice but to accept Kyo's attentions. Yet she struggles to overcome her childhood emotions. Does her demonic childhood love just want her for the power he can gain, or are there other reasons behind his desire to possess her?

Review: A bodice ripper, smut, trashy...these are all terms I've seen used to describe this recent manga series. Typical literary criticisms for a series that follows a traditional formula for a romance story. And it does follow the formula, from a victim type heroine being forced into the arms of a strong protector, to sensual scenes of seduction, to proposals of marriage...it's all there in the first volume.

Sakurakoji uses interesting Japanese legends as plot elements, and spices it up with sexual tension and character development. Misao's fate as the bride of prophecy puts her in a difficult position. While some may see her as weak-willed, she is more of a victim of circumstance, never being informed of her situation and therefore unable to prepare herself for what is to come. She tries to be strong, but things are beyond her control and she is overwhelmed. Her childhood feelings for Kyo muddle her emotions, yet she still refuses to become the bride of a demon. Kyo is a typical dominant male personality. We see glimpses of his sweet demeanor as a child, but it is his arrogant attitude and confidence that he exudes at Misao now. When he is not trying to save or heal Misao, his too forward actions cross the line with what could only be considered as sexual harassment. He knows Misao is left with very little choice as to his protection, and in fact he is determined to be her only protector. An action that hints that his feelings may be more genuine than Misao realizes.

Within this first volume, Sakurakoji uses attack after attack to emphasize the true danger Misao is in, and to heat up the sexual tension between Misao and Kyo. Every time Misao is attacked, Kyo comes to her rescue and always ends up providing healing using his saliva. That's where all the naughty scenes come into play, with Kyo having to lick Misao's wounds to make her well. Since Misao is attacked every chapter, Kyo is healing her every chapter, so the first volume is made up mostly of scenes that are either action or sensual.

That being the case, Sakurakoji does both types of scenes well. The action sequences are drawn fluently making good use of speed lines and chosen imagery for panel transitions, leaving no confusion as to what is taking place. The more sensual scenes make effective use of toning to convey the intimate mood. Misao is drawn to be pretty or attractive, not an average looking protagonist. The male characters are all designed to look attractive, with the demons being the main bishonen.

If you are a part of the crowd that doesn't like romance novels and finds them sub-par literature, then you probably won't like Black Bird. However, if you're a fan of the genre and enjoy those steamy moments thrown in with an intriguing plot line, then you'll most likely be pining for the next volume as soon as it's available.

Romance Rating: Steamy - Plenty of sexual tension and suggestive imagery to satisfy the most devout romance fan.

Media Status: Black Bird volume 1 is available in English from Viz Media now. Volume 2 is due out in October 2009, and volume 3 in February 2010. As of May 2009, 8 volumes have been released in Japan, but the story is still running in Betsucomi.

Aug 21, 2009

New York Times Best Seller August 9-15

Vampire Knight 7 stays at number one for a second week, Fruits Basket 23 remains in the top five for the seventh week in a row, D N Angel 12 moves up a spot, Black Bird 1 moves up three places, and Otomen 3 drops to ninth place.




Aug 19, 2009

Memorable Manga Moments - M³: Please Save My Earth

This week's is from Saki Hiwatari's Please Save My Earth

Volume 11, pages 24-29

Right before this scene, Mokuren and Shion went through something very traumatic which should have destroyed their relationship. However, to Shion's surprise, their relationship is not over. Shion claims "I'm not the man for you" even while he confesses that all he's wanted is the love of another human being. And Mokuren sees in Shion what she has been looking for her whole life - somebody who sees her as a person. Then there is a flash-forward in time to Shion during his time of insanity at Mokuren's tomb.

This moment stands out because there is so much happening in these six pages. It is told from Shion's viewpoint, but later we see Mokuren's viewpoint. That makes this moment even more poignant in the second reading because we know what Shion does not. It is ironic that, as Mokuren is talking about how people keep searching for big things when what they want are the small things before them, Shion is doing just that - he is focusing so hard on his pessimism that he does not see that Mokuren is offering what he has always secretly yearned for - love. It is only in the flash-forward that he appreciates Mokuren. And yet, rather than being angry at himself, knowing that she loved him brings him calm.

I feel like I cannot express adequately what makes this scene so moving. It depends so much on understanding the characters of Mokuren and Shion. This feels like a moment which could only happen between these two, and that this is happening between real people. There have been times when I failed to recognize the truth before me because I was caught in my emotional defenses. Mokuren's forgiveness is far stronger than her rage ever could be, just as Shion's peace at Mokuren's tomb is more moving than his hatred. This is one of my very favorite moments in Please Save My Earth, and that is saying a lot.

This week's Memorable Manga Moment was brought to you by
♥ Sara K. ♥ =D>

Thanks, Sara, for sharing this very moving moment with us, and a great big high-five from me on the writing! Well done! \:D/

Aug 16, 2009

Manga of the Month: Kimi ni Todoke vol. 1 - Karuho Shiina

Kimi ni Todoke is currently serialized in Bessatsu Margaret since 2006. In 2008 it won the Kodansha Manga Award for best shojo manga. With such an accolade, it's no surprise that this series has been highly anticipated here in the states. After reading the first chapter preview before the end of Shojo Beat, I know myself and others were eagerly awaiting volume 1. That's why this book was voted "Manga of the Month" for August 2009.

Synopsis: Sawako Kuronuma is a shy, socially inept girl who since elementary school has been called "Sadako" after the character from the Japanese movie Ringu (The Ring in English). With long black hair and a quiet nature, she has been stigmatized as being able to see ghosts and cause curses, making her peers wary of her. Only one classmate seems immune to the rumors. Shota Kazehaya remembers meeting Sawako the first day of high school. Lost on his way to school, Sawako points him in the right direction and leaves a lasting impression upon Kazehaya. Kazehaya is part of the popular crowd, well liked by his classmates. When he extends his friendship to Sawako despite the fears of their classmates, it encourages Sawako's efforts to overcome the class's misconceptions of her and form other friendships. Though Sawako admires Kazehaya's kindness and expresses her deepest respect for him, he on the other hand has a genuine romantic interest in Sawako. As Sawako acclimates to her new social world, a sweet affection has blossomed between Kazehaya and Sawako that hints at a deeper love to come.

Review: Honestly, I haven't enjoyed a high school manga this much since I first read High School Debut over a year ago. That makes this difficult to review, seeing as I am so partial to it. I'll do my best to be objective, but no promises.

The strength of this story lies within the character development. The amount of growth in Sawako's character in just the first volume speaks of a story enriched by the characters themselves, in addition to the events of the plot. Sawako's struggles are not too far from what many teens actually experience in regards to peers' perceptions and rumors. That makes her character easy to relate to and empathize with, since most have endured the role of social outcast in some form at one point or another. Kazehaya's character seems too good to be true. The popular boy falling for the social outcast? A female teen fantasy come to life if I've ever seen one. Yet Shiina reveals his faults to the audience, making him less of a fantasy and more realistic, if not very believable. Still, his actions are endearing the way he stands up for Sawako, and it's hard as a girl to not like him. A gentlemanly protector - heck yes, we all want him to exist! - even if it's not the norm. As well as the personalities, it's the shared moments between the two characters of Sawako and Kazehaya that show Shiina's talent as a writer and artist. From chosen panels to portraying the character expressions, the art reinforces the wealth of development in both plot and characters. The contrast in styles from Sawako's chibi form, to the standard character designs, to the detailed feathery textures in the more emotional scenes, provides a sense of balance and really gives more depth to the story. I'm really looking forward to reading this series as a whole. From what I've read it only gets better, and it will be a delight to see where the journey of these two characters takes them.

Romance Rating: Cuddly - Sweet affection and friendship start off this relationship.

Media Status: Kimi ni Todoke is available in English in one volume from Viz Media. Volume 2 will be in stores October 6, 2009. As of November 2008, there are 8 volumes in Japanese. An anime adaptation is currently underway by Production I.G. and is announced to be out this fall 2009 in Japan.

Aug 14, 2009

New York Times Best Seller August 2-8

Vampire Knight 7 hits number one with a strong showing of other shojo titles in the top ten.





Aug 12, 2009

Blogger Requests Your Favorite Manga Memories

REQUEST! Submissions for Memorable Manga Moments!

I have a great time choosing favorite moments myself, but I admit that my personal library is somewhat limited. I would like to share some touching or funny moments that other readers besides myself remember. It's a great way to introduce others to your favorite titles as well.

Click on the button in the side bar (or below) and fill out the form. No personal data is collected and forms go straight to my inbox. Make up a kooky code name if you want. :) Submissions will be considered as received. So have fun, be witty, and tell us what you find memorable in your favorite shojo mangas!

Aug 9, 2009

Pig Bride Vol. 2 - KookHwa Huh / SuJin Kim

Pig Bride is a Korean manhwa currently serialized in Yen Plus magazine.

Synopsis: When cute and conniving Doe-Doe Eun arrives to visit Si-Joon Lee at his home, she is possessed by an evil snake spirit determined to harm Si-Joon. A new character is introduced and the source of the evil spirits comes to light. After reviving Doe-Doe, Mu-Yeon Park passes out and Si-Joon must lift the mask to give her CPR. It is at this time he has a flashback and some history between the souls of Mu-Yeon and Si-Joon is revealed. Si-Joon's psyche has begun to acknowledge the significance of Mu-Yeon, however he continues to yell accusations of blame at her for everything that goes wrong. Despite this, Mu-Yeon uses her own knowledge and powers to protect and and take care of Si-Joon and his friends, including Doe-Doe. When Doe-Doe determines that Mu-Yeon is Si-Joon's fiance, she conspires to get rid of the girl once and for all. With Doe-Doe in custody of Mu-Yeon's mask, the volume concludes with a cliff hanger, and it looks like the spoiled brat is in for an ugly surprise.

Review: With more action and character development, volume 2 is much more entertaining than the first. From fighting evil spirits to fortune telling, Mu-Yeon's enigmatic aura continues to remain the centerpiece of the storyline. This volume reveals the existence of a powerful physical rival for Mu-Yeon. Thus, the supernatural elements from the first volume begin to take shape and make more sense. Si-Joon is still his passionate, oblivious self. I still want to knock some sense into him for how he acts towards Doe-Doe and Mu-Yeon. However, with recent events he is evolving to become more aware of the connection between himself and Mu-Yeon. As one event quickly leads to another the plot of this volume spirals to a cliffhanger, an effective if annoying device cleverly used by the author. The art in this volume looks attractive. The panels transition smoothly, even in the action sequences. The scenes are nicely balanced with clean line art and dynamic toning to suit the mood of the story. Overall, this story has readily captured my attention and the wait for volume three will try my patience. A cliffhanger? Really?!

Romance Rating: Cuddly - Some questionable kissing, possessive affection, and heart aching attraction heat up the romantic action in this volume.

Media Status: Pig Bride is available in two volumes from Yen Press, with volume three being released in December 2009. You can read the most current chapters in Yen Plus magazine.

Aug 7, 2009

New York Times Best Seller July 27-August 2

Although Fruits Basket 23 moves down a spot, Vampire Knight 7 and D N Angel 12 come on strong with early release copies.



Aug 6, 2009

Unforgettable Manga Beginnings

In one of my more reflective moments I began thinking back to which manga series I've read that had the best "hook". This would be an image or content within the first chapter that roped me into the story and made me HAVE to read it. For me, it usually starts with an image, since I'm more of a visual person.

One of the most striking images in recent memory comes out of Setona Mizushiro's After School Nightmare. As I flip through the first few colored pages, the bright red blood on a pale tile floor catches my eye. Scanning down, the next panel shows main character Ichijo (male) standing gangly and nude in the shower from the waist up. Finally my eyes come to rest on the last panel of his feet, blood running into the drain. Now some of you are probably thinking "ewww...", but the idea of a boy menstruating in the shower was a shocking enough image to make me start wondering where in the world the author was taking this character. I had to know more. After reading the whole series it was a fantastic journey, and I'm so glad I read it. I may not have ever bought the first novel if it hadn't been for Mizushiro's dramatic and shocking imagery.

But it's not always just an image. Sometimes it's the characters and the actions that occur that demand my attention. Now, normally I'm not really big on fan service. I can do without it. Yet for some reason Mizuki Kawashita's introductory scene of Strawberry 100% stands out as quite memorable. Maybe because it was a unique character introduction, or perhaps just the absurdity of the situation itself. But after main character Junpei is flashed by a pretty girl in strawberry panties on the roof of the school at sunset, my interest in the characters was piqued. Who is this clumsy girl? What happens to the guy who wants to get the panty shot in the sunset on video? (Future porno director?) Kawashita's tale doesn't disappoint, and of course there are many more funny fan service scenes that provide comic relief through out this series, but it is the characters that drive the story. That vivid presentation of the protagonists (with the white strawberry panties) still sticks in my mind.
There are many more that I could describe. Fruits Basket, anyone? How about High School Debut? After coming up with some memorable ones for myself, I wondered what images or content in stories sucked in other readers. So tell me, what jumps out in your mind as a story that has an unforgettable "hook" ?

Aug 5, 2009

Memorable Manga Moments - M³: Kimi ni Todoke

This week's is from Karuho Shiina's Kimi ni Todoke
Volume 1 Chapter 3

In this scene Kazehaya is attempting to send Sawako a note during class. Having never received a note in class before, she doesn't consider it's for her and tries to pass it on to one of the gang around her. Kazehaya already embarrassed, retrieves the note with some commotion and this time writes her name on it. Even when she sees it, she is surprised and still verifies with him that the note is for her. He smiles and confirms that it is. I think it's moments like the one pictured above that have drawn so many shojo fans into this story. It's the little things between shy Sawako and sweet Kazehaya that make them so endearing.

Aug 1, 2009

The Devil Does Exist - Mitsuba Takanashi

The Devil Does Exist, or Akumo de Soro, ran in Bessatsu Margaret from 1999 - 2002. This is the first serialized work of Mitsuba Takanashi, better known for her most recent translated title of Crimson Hero.

Synopsis: Kayano Saito’s shy personality makes confessing her true love for basketball captain Kamijo difficult. When she finally finds the courage, her clumsiness and embarrassment cause her to confess to first year Takeru Edogawa. Takeru is the son of the principal and his reputation as a trouble-maker leads Kayano to believe the worst of him. He doesn’t help when he teases Kayano, steals her first kiss, and declares she will belong to him and not Kamijo. Events get complicated when Kayano’s single mom announces that she’s getting engaged – to none other than principal Edogawa. Now Kayano will never get away from Takeru, and must become his older sister! Things only get worse when the two teens discover that they may actually be developing feelings for one another.

Review: Sibling rivalry at it’s finest? Hardly. Naughty scenes of incestuous relations? Um, no, not that either. So what does The Devil Does Exist provide? Takanashi presents a struggle of teenage relationships and difficult family emotions. The story begins weakly, with the main characters not even very likable personalities. Kayano exhibits the wishy-washy feelings of a teenage girl who cannot decide how one boy makes her feel. Her gullibility is annoying. Her feelings are easily manipulated, and she falls for the same threats repeatedly. Her friends describe her as “pure”, and she tries to believe the best of everyone - both a good and bad trait. She eventually comes to realize her own strength, which makes her a more satisfying character. Like Kayano, Takeru also starts off as a non-endearing lead. He’s introduced as a bad boy who disgraces Kayano until she (and the reader) resents him. Then fickle Kayano decides she likes him and he’s become a sensitive, caring guy. It's a confusing, sudden transition that doesn't feel right for the character. All of this is just evidence that Takanashi’s first piece is very rough around the edges. Once the two teens declare their feelings, the plot becomes more about how to hide their relationship from their parents in order for the family to be together and happy. Pleasantly, the plot and characters improve as the story progresses. Takeru becomes enjoyable as a character more and more because he is always pushing Kayano to become stronger. Takanashi does a superb job of wrapping up any loose plot lines as the story concludes, leaving readers satisfied. The artwork begins just as unpolished as the storyline, yet improves as the story progresses. The character designs show her distinctive style. I chuckled as Takanashi admitted in a sidebar that Takeru was drawn to look like Hyde from L’Arc en Ciel. (Way to pull in the fangirls!) Still, the panels are well laid out, and nice toning as well as backgrounds accent the scenes. Her ability to age the characters from the beginning to the end of the series really shines. All in all, The Devil Does Exist is like a diamond in the rough, showing Mitsuba Takanashi’s promising talent, just lacking that certain polish her later work exhibits. A good read if one sticks with it, and certainly a better understanding of the mangaka’s abilities as a whole.

Romance Rating: Steamy - One bedroom scene, but no nudity.

Media Status: The Devil Does Exist is available in English in 11 volumes from CMX. A live action drama of the series called Devil Beside You was made in Taiwanese and broadcast on China television in 2005.

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